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James Franklin Navigating Tricky College Football Landscape

On July 1, 2021, college athletes across the country began signing endorsement deals. The move came after the NCAA ended the one-year transfer penalty for football players only three months prior. The amateur model of college sports was gone, and college football was turned on its head.

After three seasons in the new era of college football, the bottom is dropping out. Last December, the NCAA announced it would allow multi-time transfers to forgo a one-year penalty, and the portal became accessible to a greater portion of the roster. Frustrated with having to balance a busy portal-recruiting season with bowl prep, coaches, including James Franklin, are becoming increasingly outspoken about issues with both the transfer portal and NIL.

In early February, the Big Ten and SEC announced the creation of a joint advisory group to help address the “significant challenges” facing intercollegiate athletics. At his media availability on Tuesday, Franklin praised the partnership for its potential to enact change.

“I think the commissioners, in a lot of ways, are the only people who can get this fixed,” Franklin said. “I love the fact that the Big Ten and the SEC have stepped up to have a significant leadership role in this and are using their voices. Because as we all know, we have some tremendous challenges.”

Franklin has traditionally been immune to some of those challenges. He says he’s never had big portal additions or subtractions, and he likes it that way.

The Nittany Lions added six players from the transfer portal during the winter window including wide receiver Julian Fleming, tackle Nolan Rucci, and cornerbacks Jalen Kimber and A.J. Harris. Along with the six additions, Franklin lost five players to the portal including wide receiver Dante Cephas, who left for Kansas State after not seeing the field during the Peach Bowl.

Both Fleming and Rucci were recruiting targets for Penn State coming out of high school. Franklin lost Fleming to Ohio State and Rucci to Wisconsin, and he says it’s already having a relationship with the players that helps during a short transfer window. With Penn State traditionally starting its spring semester a week earlier than most other schools, that window becomes shorter and exposes another issue with the current system.

“For the schools that have a huge amount of time over Christmas break before the spring semester starts, they have a huge advantage in the transfer portal,” Franklin said. “So if we can’t get guys accepted early and here, it’s going to be really challenging.”

While Franklin was trying to bring players to campus, he was also taking a ride on the coaching carousel. After the firing of Mike Yurcich and the departures of Manny Diaz and Stacy Collins, Franklin was tasked with hiring three new coordinators. The search was extensive, and Franklin says his interview with defensive coordinator Tom Allen lasted a week, and he didn’t have the time to learn what he needed.

Franklin called himself “old school” and recognized that the offseason is always going to be a busy period for a college coach. At the essence of it all, though, is the person, and Franklin’s main critique of the current system is the harm it can do to a student. He took exception to the multi-time transfer rule and believes the chances of graduating go down for each change. It’s a rule that only supports the athlete in a student-athlete, and that’s not a part of Franklin’s coaching philosophy.

“I still truly believe that if you’re coaching college football, you should be coaching because you care about the kids,” Franklin said. “Their total development academically, athletically, socially, and spiritually. The whole package.”

The duties of a college football coach are changing. Franklin believes that the unusually hectic coaching carousel was in part due to the position straying so far from what coaches originally signed up for.

But, according to Franklin, initiatives like that of the Big Ten and SEC are a step in the right direction. Finding the solution won’t be easy, but Franklin’s confident there’s change on the way.

“We’ve been on a slippery slope for a while. And the reality is the college athletics that we’ve all known, that’s not coming back,” Franklin said. “Hopefully, we can do what’s best for everybody. We need that right now.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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